University of Kansas

What KU’s newest freshman, Jalen Wilson, hopes to bring to Jayhawks

Jalen Wilson emerged from the Kansas locker room on Monday, took a right, then headed for his workout in the KU weight room.

There was one problem.

“Jalen, you’re this way, bud,” KU coach Bill Self said with a grin, stopping an interview to direct Wilson down the hall to the left instead. “You’ll figure it out.”

Forgive Wilson — a 6-foot-8 freshman forward from Denton, Texas — if he’s still gaining his bearings. After committing to KU last week, Rivals’ 47th-ranked player quickly made his way to Lawrence to take part in the second week of Self’s summer basketball camp.

His later arrival this week has created some challenges. For one, Wilson’s fingerprint hasn’t yet been added to KU Athletics’ security system, meaning to this point, he’s needed a chaperone to get into both the locker room and practice gym.

“I’ve been locked out of every door,” Wilson said with a laugh. “I’m finding my way, though.”

And soon enough, he’s likely to emerge as one of the most important players as KU seeks to regain its standing atop the Big 12.

Self, when talking earlier this week, did nothing to lower expectations for Wilson — one of the top-rated recruits in the Jayhawks’ 2019 class along with Tristan Enaruna.

“He gives us size, he gives us toughness and he gives us skill,” Self said. “He’s not going to wow you like some people may think, like Josh (Jackson) could, from an athletic standpoint and quick-twitch standpoint, but he just knows how to play. He’s a winner.”

Wilson, who originally committed to Michigan before reopening his recruitment this spring when coach John Beilein left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, was pleased when KU’s staff showed interest again. Wilson said he grew up as a KU fan after admiring the way that Marcus and Markieff Morris played.

“When they came back into the picture, I was very excited to try it out,” Wilson said.

He eventually picked KU over finalists Michigan and North Carolina, with his first appearance on campus in front of fans coming Tuesday during Self’s campers game.

Wilson, who had 11 points for the red team, described his skill-set afterward as “just an all-around guy that can shoot, score. Great teammate. I always try to be good teammates to everybody.”

Self also raved about Wilson’s demeanor.

“I think he’s a tough kid,” Self said. “ ... He likes the competitiveness of it. A lot of guys can claim they’re that, but they’ve never really been in the trenches competing. He’s a guy that you can just tell likes it.”

Wilson potentially could be a versatile piece. He said he’d be comfortable playing the 2-4 positions — “Anything coach needs me to do, I’m up to do,” he said — and Self talked specifically this week about him being a floor-spacer.

“I think his ability to shoot the ball is probably close to as good as anybody on our team,” Self said. “To have that as a guy that’s potentially a bad-matchup 4 — at least at times in the game — I think is going to be real important to us.”

Wilson potentially might not be in Lawrence for long. When discussing his new surroundings Tuesday, he said he’d “found my home for the next year,” meaning he could be someone that looks to go pro quickly if all goes as planned.

He wouldn’t be the first player in that mold if it happens. In fact, Wilson said Self and his staff brought up former players Ben McLemore and Kelly Oubre when trying to show him how he potentially could be featured in KU’s offense.

Both played only one season for the Jayhawks before turning pro.

“My style fits so good with this run-and-gun team,” Wilson said. “This team loves to score. I love to score. So I feel like we can really win.”

That team goal remains the top priority for 2019-20, as Wilson watched from afar as KU fell short of expectations last year.

“Seeing last year wasn’t really the Kansas way, I would say,” Wilson said. “We all want to come in and get back on track for what Kansas is really known for.”

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